In an intersection of the law and modern tech, a judge "known for handing down unusual sentences" has recently ordered convicted drunk drivers to download popular ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. As a condition of probation, the convicted drivers must not only download the apps but enter their credit card numbers in the payment tab so that the apps are ready for use.
Uber and Lyft have had a hand in drastically reducing the number of drunken drivers getting behind the wheel - at least according to some studies. As the apps grew in popularity and achieved ‘Essential' status on iTunes App Store, it is logical to assume that a reduction in drunken driving soon followed. However, the jury is still out as to whether or not they actually had an impact on the rate of drunk driving in the United States. A Google query of that very question yields mixed, outright contradicting results. The top results assert that Uber and Lyft have had no effect on the drunk driving landscape, while the following results allege the exact opposite.
To properly evaluate the judge's decision, it is best to examine whether or not these apps have had their reputed effect. In 2016, CNN reported that a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found no reduction in DUI fatalities, stating that "the rise of Uber didn't correspond to any decrease in fatalities, overall or during peak drinking times like weekend nights.” CNN argued that the number of drunken driving incidents vastly outweighs the number of Uber rides given annually, such that the app could barely make a dent in the figure. It may also be contended that drunk drivers are already thinking less rationally, and the action of ordering an Uber or Lyft may not come as naturally and simply getting into their car when they are ready to leave. The studies, however, do not agree. In 2015 the Daily Beast published an article entitled “Uber Actually Reduces Drunk Driving Deaths,” citing a study from Philadelphia's Temple University which investigated fatalities over the same span of time as the aforementioned study. The Beast reported that fatalities fell by 5.6% in cities where Uber ran. The Foundation for Economic Education reported that the number of drunk driving arrests in the city of Austin dropped from 525 per month to 358 per month in the time that Uber began running there. When Uber pulled out of Austin, that figure jumped to 476 per month.
Reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road has been a proud facet of Uber's business model and image, despite the conflicting statistics. In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said, "We're glad Uber can provide an alternative to drunk driving and help people make more responsible choices. Our ridership numbers show that trips peak at times when people are more likely to be out drinking and 80% of riders say that Uber has helped them personally avoid drinking and driving.” The New York Times reported on the wide variation of statistics surrounding Uber's effect on the drunk driving landscape, concluding, "it's too early to say for sure.”